Optimism is an overused and broad topic in coaching. The term “Positive thinking” is becoming so commonplace it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. It evokes images of cross-legged legging-clad women looking serene or men on mountains looking like gold medallists.

But, much like the state of flow discussed last week, optimism is not something you can conjure up. I propose that it is instead a bi-product of good working practices and, of course, your own personal tendencies.

As far as personal tendencies are concerned no-one really is an eternal optimist – no one is always positive, but you’ll probably be able to think of somebody you work with, if not yourself, who tends towards this outlook. Optimism gets bad press because it is often associated with these two common pitfalls:

2 main pitfalls of the eternal optimist:

  1. Being insensitive to people’s low feelings about difficult situations
  2. Burying your head in the sand and ignoring issues that need to be solved

This is where my good working practices come into it. A healthy dose of realism can help you steer optimism in useful directions. Focusing on the pitfalls will stop the hidden qualities of true optimism shining through:

2 main qualities of the true optimist:

  1. Assuming that the people you rely on will be reliable
  2. Assuming there is always a solution to every problem, even if it’s not immediately apparent

For the pessimist or cynic this approach seems foolhardy at best, but coupled with a realist’s approach to people’s feelings and a project’s failings, an optimist can overcome disappointments and struggle on to achieve results when a pessimist may have given up under a cloud of “I-told-you-so”.

So rather than a mantra to success that you keep repeating in the hope you will somehow become happy, optimism is a tool for approaching and fixing problems.

Oh dear, my first entry for this topic of optimism has been rather practical and advice driven, mostly because I feel so passionately about being an optimist myself. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on some of my advice so please feel free to comment below.

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